Mega projects take centre stage in production

Paul Boughton

Whether it is petrochemicals, LNG or still-to-be-developed resources, mega-projects are the way forward when it comes to processing

Shell has announced the successful completion of the Shell Eastern Petrochemicals Complex (SEPC) project in Singapore. SEPC is Shell's largest petrochemicals investment to date and the second world-scale petrochemicals project the company has completed in Asia in four years. The completion of the project reinforces Shell's intention to remain a leading player in the expanding Asian petrochemicals market.

Shell designed the new facilities to maximise the benefits of locating refining and petrochemicals production within a single manufacturing hub on Bukom and Jurong islands, just off the Singapore coast. Jurong Island is a major petrochemical zone which provides opportunities for further integration with current and potential customers, as well as in Shell's own operations (Fig. 1).

Each of the new chemical production units started up as planned. They include a world-scale ethylene cracker, which started up in March, and one of the world's largest mono-ethylene glycol plants, which has been producing since November 2009. The project also included modifications to the Shell Pulau Bukom Refinery, enabling it to process a wider range of crudes to supply feedstock to the cracker. A new ethylene jetty and cryogenic terminal enable the import and export of ethylene.

The additional capacity brought on stream by the SEPC project includes: 800,000t/y ethylene, 750,000t/y mono-ethylene glycol, 450,000t/y propylene, 230,000t/y benzene, and 155,000t/y butadiene.

Meanwhile RasGas, the Qatar-based liquefied natural gas (LNG) supplier, announced on 18th May that it had loaded a spot sale LNG cargo onto its own LNG vessel at Ras Laffan port.

The spot sale is a significant milestone for RasGas and Qatar, as this is the first supply of Qatari LNG to Argentina. The cargo is bound for the Bahia Blanca GasPort LNG Terminal 600 km south of Buenos Aires to meet ENARSA's natural gas needs.

RasGas is well positioned to supply this market with safe, high quality and reliable LNG. In October last year, RasGas also supplied a spot LNG cargo to the Chilean market, and we're continuing to explore supply solutions for customers in new and niche markets in other parts of the world.

The Argentinian delivery follows the earlier successful completion and start-up of RasGas's seventh LNG train. This is capable of producing 7.8 million tonnes of LNG per annum (Mta), boosting the overall LNG production capacity of all RasGas companies to approximately 36.3Mta.

Like Train 6, which came online in July 2009, Train 7 is one of a new generation of 'mega-trains', each capable of producing 7.8Mta. This is a big step up from the 4.7Mta production capacity of RasGas Trains 3, 4 and 5, and the project involved scaling up every aspect of the new train, from pipeline diameters to the machinery used to power the process. RasGas' project teams fully embraced these challenges to deliver what the company describes as exceptional results.

The offshore aspects of the project were also extensive. Significant team efforts were required to ensure a secure gas supply to RasGas Train 7, which is fed by the most prolific offshore wells ever drilled.

Train 7 builds on the success of existing RasGas expansion projects in terms of technology, design and project specifications.

RasGas' strong relationships with contractors helped it to maximise performance and learn through continuous improvement. As a result of integrated team co-ordination, careful planning, leadership and a skilled workforce, the commissioning and start-up of Train 7 progressed smoothly.

An example of these continuous improvements was the innovative approach used to significantly reduce the amount of gas typically consumed or flared during the start-up of such a large and complex gas facility. Through the utilisation of plant design improvements and enhanced operating procedures, these approaches resulted in gas savings equivalent to that carried in two LNG tankers.

Meanwhile Repsol chairman Antonio Brufau and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez signed in Caracas the agreement to create the PetroCarabobo joint venture that will develop oil reserves in Venezuela's Orinoco oil belt, one of the world's largest undeveloped hydrocarbon deposits.

The Carabobo area is located in the eastern part of the Orinoco oil belt, which may hold up to 513 billion barrels of oil according to the latest US Geological Survey. Repsol, with an 11 per cent stake, will act as coordinator for the consortium that in February won the rights to develop blocks Carabobo 1 Norte and Centro. Repsol is partnered by India Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (11 per cent), Petronas (11 per cent), Oil India Limited (3.5 per cent) and Indian Oil Corporation Limited (3.5 per cent). PDVSA, according to Venezuelan legislation, owns the remaining 60 per cent of the joint venture.

The project will allow Repsol to boost its net reserves by an estimated 134 million barrels of oil through 2014, with an expected total net investment in the period of US$750 million. A further 134 million barrels can be added in the period 2015-2019.

The development of the heavy crude oil project includes a commercial agreement that will allow Repsol's Spanish refineries to process 165,000 barrels of oil a day.

The company says that this contract generates a significant competitive advantage over rivals thanks to its experience in the use of advanced oil conversion technology at its refineries. The joint venture will also build the crude production and upgrading installations as well as the processing and transport infrastructure (Fig. 2). This contract has a duration of 25 years, with a further 15-year extension possible.

The Venezuelan government has tendered seven blocks in the Carabobo region, with a total estimated 128 billion barrels of oil in place. The blocks are grouped in three projects, each of which could reach a maximum production of 400,000 barrels of oil/day for 40 years. Each of the projects includes the construction of a crude upgrader


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